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Thursday, September 27, 2012

FIFA 13 (9.1/10)

To read the official full length review follow the link here: FIFA 13.

As a dyed-in-the-wool soccer fanatic, I sometimes find it difficult to temper my expectations when it comes to both my real life teams and my virtual ones. I fervently look forward to the start of the new Premier League season in hopes that my beloved Liverpool will finally regain their form (fat chance, as if the beginning of this season could have gone any worse!), but also because it heralds the newest rendition of EA Sports FIFA series. The last couple of years have been a boon for the franchise, taking some big chances but ultimately improving the end product exponentially. FIFA 13 doesn't make the drastic changes to the formula we have seen recently, but the subtle tweaks make for a more accessible footballing experience for casual fans as well as increased depth and new play modes for diehards like yours truly.

On the one hand, there are some laudable improvements over last year's stellar entry. The new first touch mechanic can be a useful tool in the hands of skilled players. The more intuitive attacking AI makes the game flow much more smoothly from end to end. I really feel like it makes the game easier for newcomers and casual fans alike. Deeper career modes and a host of new online options give veterans a lot to be excited about as well. But there are still issues that need to be addressed such as long passing, crossing, and smoother presentation and commentary. However, these are minor concerns in the face of what is an overall stellar product. If you're a fan of the beautiful game then FIFA 13 is a must buy, once again!

If you want to read more of my specific thoughts about the game, follow the link to read the full length review at Game Over Online!  


Score = 9.1 / 10

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lollipop Chainsaw (7.2/10)

The wide world of video games is full of colorful characters... and I'm not just talking about those on screen! Peter Molyneux springs instantly to mind, as does Tomonobu Itagaki of Ninja Gaiden fame. But few are as eclectic as Goichi Suda, also known as Suda 51. He is best known as the creative genius behind such games as killer7 and No More Heroes. Now he returns with Lollipop Chainsaw, telling the tale of a buxom cheerleader who gets caught up in the unfortunate series of events during a zombie outbreak. And like his other efforts, Lollipop Chainsaw takes this bizarre notion and makes a quirky, enjoyable game out of it. Sadly, also like his other efforts, his fun ideas are tempered by wonky controls and some poor design decisions. 

Today is Juliet's birthday! Unfortunately, the party will have to wait because, you know, like, the zombie apocalypse has begun. Fortunately, it turns out that our stereotypical, cliched, buxom, blond bombshell of a heroine has another passion beyond shopping and lollipops... she happens to be a zombie hunter! Not only that, she comes from a family of zombie hunters! Unfortunately, Juliet's boyfriend Nick tragically suffers a zombie related mishap. Luckily for him her love is strong, so she magically seals his head off from the zombie poison coursing through his veins, and then straps his head to her butt. He serves as part comic relief, part useful tool (Nick can be shot out of cannons, thrown at zombies, things like that) to take on the hordes of undead as Juliet endeavors to find the source of the outbreak and punish those responsible.

If that made sense to you in any fashion... well, then kudos, give yourself a pat on the back. The plot never really evolves much beyond meeting members of her family and battling the zombie rock lords who serve as bosses (if you've managed to keep your eyebrows from raising there, give yourself another pat on the back). Mind you, I didn't really expect it to. The plot is intentionally ridiculous, taking campy B-grade zombie movies (that we all secretly love) to new heights.

I can't tell how much of Buffy the Vampire Slayer they are trying to channel here. At times it seems like they are trying to pay a certain amount of homage to the cult classic, but at other times it seems to almost be making crude, mean spirited fun of it, making a mockery of the subject matter. The difference is that one is empowering, while the other is just degrading.

Be warned, a lot of the dialogue is pretty over the top, yet surprisingly, blatantly inappropriate. The bad guys say things to Juliet that actually had me raising my eyebrows at the sheer vulgarity of it. Subtly may not be Suda 51's forte, but come on now! It's almost like he's trying to single handedly set back the feminist movement by 60 years! Okay, okay, I know it's supposed to be tongue in cheek, but it's still pretty bad. 

Bad lines and cliched characters aside, zombie killing is what Lollipop Chainsaw is all about! Juliet carries around a wicked chainsaw in her gym bag, as well as pom-poms and, of course, Nick to bash, slice, and mutilate the undead masses. Combat consists of minor combos and moving through different weapon types. It does actually evolve as you progress (more on that in a minute), so it's more than simple button mashing. Sadly, the level design follows the all too familiar pattern of kill so many zombies before you can progress, then kill some more to progress some more. Eventually you'll run into a boss. It's fun at first, but the novelty wears off pretty quickly. But Juliet and her skills are upgradable, so that at least keeps things a little fresh.

Killing three or more zombies with one swing will earn you sparkle hunting points... yeah (another pat on the back if you kept a straight face). It's clever in that you get extra medals for pulling them off, and therefore, more goodies to buy. If you actually build up a "Sparkle Meter" which, when full, allows Juliet to go on a "Mickey" themed rampage (the song, not the Disney character), one hit killing any zombie in her path for a short time. This is when you can really rack up the points, and subsequently spend those points to upgrade Juliet's skill set. Unfortunately, it takes an age to fill, so you really need to pick your moments.

Despite it's best efforts not to be, Lollipop Chainsaw is still a one trick pony. Here's is the problem... I literally used the same combo the entire game. Why, you ask? Because the one worked just fine in pretty much every situation! You can unlock others as you progress but the cost to upgrade is a little too high. This is fine, but it's really only worth thinking about it in terms of multiple playthroughs. You don't get the good stuff till so near the end that you barely have time to play around with them. Therein lies the problem. The developers wrongly assumed people would want to replay the silly story again solely for the gameplay, but since the gameplay isn't that good to begin with (because they don't give you the best combos till the end) then why would I want to go through it again? The game even tells you that if you play through on harder difficulties then weapon/enemy/health drops will all be different, but I couldn't escape thinking that I didn't really care that much and the story hadn't engaged me enough to warrant another go.

The production values are kind of a mixed bag. The heavily stylized, cel-shaded graphics are well done, but don't animate very well. Juliet and Nick look great, and it's colorful and fun most of the time, but I couldn't help thinking repeatedly that the animations outside of the main characters looked awful. The cutscenes are poorly edited, with loading screens cutting off dialogue.

The soundtrack is a highlight, although the overly cliched dialogue wears on you like watching a poorly edited version of Clueless. If you can pick out the good lines from the bad you'll be okay, but a lot of the stuff is repeated far too often. In fact, the music is probably the best part of Lollipop Chainsaw. Whether it's Juliet kicking zombie ass while "Mickey" plays in the background, to the different musically inclined bosses at the end of each level, the soundtrack definitely enhances the experience.

Suda 51 is an interesting character to say the least. Just like his other efforts, there is something to be said for his talent, but perhaps not his execution. Lollipop Chainsaw is cute (in a warped way, more poking fun at stereotypes rather than embracing them), funny (there are some good one-liners if you can sit through all the drivel) and the game has some campy value (much like his other games). If you can get past the simplistic gameplay and eye-rolling plot, then Lollipop Chainsaw is worth playing... once. I think the biggest mistake he made with this one was the faulty assumption that we would want to replay the game, because it's only on subsequent playthroughs that you're really going to get the most out of it. Personally, I couldn't be bothered.


Score = 7.2 / 10

Friday, September 7, 2012

Madden 13 (8.5/10)

To read the official full length review follow the link here: Madden 13.

Madden simultaneously encapsulates both everything that is great with our industry as well as it’s darker under belly. On the one hand, the Madden franchise virtually defines blockbuster, with only a handful of titles that can compare on an annual sales basis. But at the same time, every year fans decry the lack of evolution with the series. The phrase “I hope I’m not just buying another roster update!” being a common refrain at the time of purchase. It seems like every year EA tries to pat us on the shoulder in a fatherly way, admonishing our lack of faith and assuring us that this year all of last year’s problems would be fixed... and while sometimes issues are addressed, fans almost universally agree it’s never enough. EA has promised a lot of changes to Madden 13 this year both on the field and off, but does the game finally live up to the hype?

The short answer is yes, but the long answer is still no... EA made some noticeable improvements to not only the gameplay, but also revamping some of the key modes of the series. “Connected Careers” is intriguing and addictive, and the Infinity Engine becomes more and more appreciated the more you play. Time will tell if hardcore fans end up appreciating their efforts. But Madden 13 loses points with me because of the “Franchise” mode debacle. The fact that you can’t have both a created player yet still coach the entire team bothers me to no end. Overall, it’s a better game (probably the best it’s ever been), but the experience still isn’t what it should be. The foundation has been laid, so here’s hoping next year will rectify these issues... but, as you are probably all too aware, we’ve said that before.

If you want to read more of my specific thoughts about the game, follow the link to read the full length review at Game Over Online!  


Score = 8.5 / 10